The question was straightforward.
Bruce Landsberg, one of three members of the National Transportation Safety Board, recounted the efforts by some states to understand and evaluate the self-driving technology that's being tested on their roads. Now he wanted to know if federal safety regulators had made similar efforts.
"Is NHTSA learning?"
His question was posed to a group of NTSB investigators assembled in Washington, D.C., to discuss their findings from a probe of a fatal crash involving an Uber self-driving test vehicle.
Silence followed — perhaps an answer in and of itself.
"I realize I'm putting you in a difficult position," Landsberg said.
There has always been an inherent tension between the two federal agencies. Operating independently of any other transportation entity, the NTSB is charged with conducting crash investigations and making recommendations on how to make transportation safer.
But it can only make recommendations. The authority to implement new regulations, at least in terms of highway safety, lies with the NHTSA, a division of the larger U.S. Department of Transportation.
The friction increased during last week's meeting, at which the board and investigators examined the lack of federal safety standards concerning the testing and deployment of automated vehicles.